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Secret Behind Julani’s Step Back and Withdrawal of Military

HTS found itself in a weakened position among the public.
Secret Behind Julani’s Step Back and Withdrawal of Military

It appears that the commander of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Abu Muhammad al-Julani, has come to realize the error in his decision to deploy military brigades within cities and towns across northwestern Syria in the past two days. This decision has backfired significantly, nearly resulting in casualties, indicating that the momentum of the popular movement against him has reached an irreversible stage.

Julani has now issued orders to position military personnel at the entrances of cities and towns in Idlib, aiming to quell demonstrations against him by blocking protesters from reaching the center of Idlib city from surrounding rural areas. Concurrently, statements from Julani and his military and security apparatus suggest a stance of unwavering resolve, signalling a “new stage” where demonstrations are deemed irrelevant. They assert that the authority has been responsive to protesters and has progressively addressed their demands.  

24 hours marked a turning point in Idlib 

On Thursday evening and Friday morning, HTS initiated the deployment of military reinforcements in various cities and towns, with the assistance of affiliated factions operating within the al-Fateh al-Mubin operations room, including Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Nasr. This move was perceived as a response to reports of a planned large-scale central demonstration in Idlib city following HTS’ aggressive actions towards a peaceful sit-in tent in the city, ultimately destroying its contents and dismantling it entirely.

According to local sources speaking to Syria TV on Friday morning, HTS’ security apparatus, alongside its military branch, established numerous checkpoints surrounding Idlib city, restricting civilian access with only exceptional allowances, primarily extended to the families of HTS members.

The deployment encompassed various entry points into the city, particularly along routes leading from Jericho, Binnish, and Maarrat Misrin to the heart of Idlib city. HTS also stationed checkpoints near Foua town on Thursday evening, hindering demonstrators from Binnish from entering, and similarly positioned a checkpoint in the camp area in Killi’s countryside, north of Idlib, known for periodic demonstrations.

Following Friday prayers, HTS forcefully intervened against demonstrators from Binnish, preventing their advance towards Idlib’s center. Members deployed tear gas and utilized armoured vehicles to disperse the crowd, resulting in injuries. In Jisr al-Shughour, west of Idlib, circulated videos depicted HTS members firing live bullets into the air and physically assaulting demonstrators with sticks.

The disturbing scenes of protesters facing armoured vehicles, gunfire, and physical assault triggered widespread condemnation across social media platforms, with journalists, media professionals, and even commanders within the Syrian National Army expressing outrage.

The majority of those denouncing these actions pinned responsibility on Julani holding him accountable for ordering military deployment in cities to quell peaceful demonstrations, thus instigating direct confrontations with protesters who have maintained their nonviolent stance since the movement’s inception on February 25.

Initiative and then agreement with the Damascus Gathering 

After the assault by members of HTS on the demonstrators, HTS found itself in a weakened position among the public. Their use of vehicles to attack protesters, nearly resulting in fatalities, drew widespread condemnation. In response, a public initiative emerged, led by 21 individuals identifying themselves as “residents and notables of the liberated areas.”

The initiative outlines several key points, including the withdrawal of all armed forces from public spaces, alongside a temporary halt to demonstrations. It calls for an immediate transition to genuine and earnest unconditional dialogue involving all relevant parties. Additionally, it demands an end to any rhetoric that fuels the crisis and ensures the protection of peaceful civilian demonstrators from arrest.

However, some activists have raised doubts about the initiative’s credibility, deeming it “suspicious.” They point out that some participants have affiliations with or proximity to HTS, suggesting that Julani might accept it as a means to undermine the popular movement calling for its removal.

 

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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